Akshaya Sharma starts online textbook service through BookRenter

Akshaya Sharma, sophomore Webster University student, started his own textbook service after becoming frustrated with buying textbooks for himself. PHOTO BY GALE WHITEHEAD/ The Journal

At this time of year, students are met at every turn with one lavish expense after another. There  are the lab fees, parking passes, dorm room costs and ever-rising textbook prices – the cherry on top of the college-fee sundae. When it comes to saving a buck, what is a penny-pinching, Ramen-eating college student to do?

One frustrated Webster University student wants to help.

Sophomore Akshaya Sharma, 18, has set up a shop at webster.bookrenterstore.com, where students can rent or buy textbooks. He sells textbooks through BookRenter, a host site for textbook sales. Sharma said that, unlike the university bookstore, students won’t see any inflated prices on his site.

“College campus bookstores really raise prices to make a profit,” Sharma said. “This company just doesn’t do that.”

Amber Mihelcic, a junior anthropology major, said she bought textbooks at the university bookstore once her freshman year, but has since turned to online buying.

“It’s just easier and cheaper,” Mihelcic said. “I think (Sharma’s site) is a good idea and would be cool to check out. The university bookstore is just too expensive.”

After two weeks of operation, Sharma has received 15 orders and has sold approximately $2,200 worth of textbooks. Sharma makes an 8 percent commission on every sale and will continue to sell books through the first month of school. He came across the idea while searching for an internship online.

“I looked into it and became a franchise manager of www.bookrenter.com,” Sharma said. “They have a student (selling textbooks) on one campus in almost every state right now.”

Though the campus bookstore gives students the option to rent or buy textbooks, BookRenter offers different rental periods – 30, 45, 60, 90 or 125 days. Students also have the option to extend their rental time or buy the book after renting. The textbooks are ordered and purchased online and, like other popular textbook rental sites, BookRenter ships the books for free and offers free return shipping.

“(BookRenter) tries to give as many options to college students as they can,” Sharma said.

Before his site opened for business, Sharma set up a Facebook group to advertise the website to friends; he said the feedback from students in the group was good. Since the site  opened, Sharma said he wasn’t able to advertise as much as he wanted to and hasn’t reached as many students as he planned. Sharma said he is now posting flyers around campus and has even asked professors to mention the website to their classes.

“I get approached every day by a number of people asking me how it works and how they can get their books,” Sharma said.

Despite the popularity of online bookstores, Jeff Smithson, manager of the Webster University bookstore, said the competition hasn’t affected their business.

“It doesn’t make us nervous – at least one individual doesn’t,” Smithson said. “We don’t encourage it because it’s competing with us. There’s always some ingenious student that’ll try it, though.”

Sharma said he will continue to advertise throughout the first month of school, making announcements about the website in classrooms and posting flyers around campus. He hopes the site will succeed this semester, and plans to continue operations if it does.

“I’m really psyched up about it,” Sharma said. “Hopefully this grows and students take advantage of this.”

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